And how not to arrive to an event unprepared.
I was once given a ticket to a guest-speaker event put on for a group of young professionals in my community. I was excited and grateful for the opportunity because I’d be seeing Erik Qualman speak about social media—Erik wrote Socialnomics and is a great speaker. I would be able to sit comfortably and listen to an expert on social networking entertain me. So I thought.
When I arrived at the event I discovered there would be a networking hour preceding it, and that I was woefully under-dressed. My vision of kicking back and listening to a great speaker was dashed when I entered a hallway full of people dressed to the nines engaged in conversation. I promptly went to the men’s room, looked at my sad self in the mirror, and exited the building.
I needed air. It took me a few minutes to collect myself and prepare for an unfamiliar group of well-dressed people I’d be meeting (or hiding from). I was starting to feel like I was in a dream where I was in one of my workshops dressed in my underwear only. But I promptly reentered the building and (luckily) spotted someone I knew.
From this incident, I have eight tips to help introverts prepare for a networking event, not simply go with eyes closed—I’m proof of this.
- Know what’s on the agenda. In retrospect the first thing I should have asked when accepting the ticket to this event was what kind of event it was going to be. Instead I gratefully accepted the ticket from a benefactor, failing to ask the nature of the event.
- Ask if there’s a dress code. Had I known there was going to be a networking session before the speaker went on, I would have dressed better. There’s nothing more distracting than knowing you’re under dressed for a networking event. (Again, I think of that horrible dream of walking into one of my workshops dressed only in my underwear.
- Go with business cards. I have business cards for work as well as personal business cards, none of which were on my person. Had I known what was going to precede the speaking event, I would have brought a set of business cards. There is nothing worse than someone handing you his/her business card and having to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring my cards with me.”
- Bring a buddy. Go to the event with someone or arrange to meet a person or two there. Perhaps there’s a person or two you’re interested in meeting for the first time. Reach out to see if they’er going. It’s assuring to know there will be someone you can speak with after you’ve made an initial connection. Warning: don’t stick together like groupies. Spread out.
- Make a soft introduction to the speaker. For introverts the soft introduction, via e-mail or LinkedIn, is a great way to introduce themselves to someone at an event. If possible, contact the person who’ll be speaking at the event. This takes some of the pressure off of approaching the person for the first time.
- You don’t have to stay until the end. It’s not like when you closed the bar during your college days. Oh, you didn’t do that? In any case, don’t feel like you have to stay to the end. There have been many times when I had such a great time at a networking event that I ended up staying the whole time. “Is it really time to go?”
- Mentally prepare for the event. Introverts have to develop a “Just do it” attitude. We need to prep ourselves to get outside our comfort zone, which includes preparing for small talk, not relying on seeing a room full of familiar faces. Preparing for a networking event might begin hours before the event, or, for some, days beforehand.
- Prepare an exit strategy. Related to number six, when you find yourself cornered by a selfish (did I say that) attendee who thinks he’s the center of the Universe and will not stop talking, you need a phrase to separate yourself from him. “It was great talking with you. I was planning to meet someone and I’d like to speak with her. (This is where your buddy can come in handy.)
The evening turned out to be great fun for me. I spoke to people who were no more prepared than me and others who were there to work the room. When I re-entered at the beginning of the event, I knew there was no turning back; and I’m glad I didn’t. One thing I wish I had done that evening was stay for the food, which looked awesome.
A major victory: I connected with a man who needed some work to be done on his LinkedIn profile. Had I not been there, I never would have run into him and earned his business.
Photo: Flickr, Girişimo
Thanks, Tim. Means a lot coming from a great writer.
Hey my pleasure Bob! Great post. Enjoy your evening…
Well, don’t go drunk. Go with an extravert friend or two. Starbucks doesn’t hurt either. 😉
In Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet”, she mentions that when she first had to get up in front of a bunch of people to give “a big speech” her husband handed her a sports bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream, saying “Drink this before you go on”.
ref: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, By Susan Cain; pp 97-98
Did she drink it?
She did take a swig, yes. 🙂
When she was hiding in the bathroom before the presentation.
My advice as a former ‘shy person’ that you take small steps. If you can try to speak to one person for two minutes at a function that would be a start. Do reward yourself for taking a step out of your comfort zone.
Yes, baby steps at first. Liz Lynch has a great quote in her book Smart Networking “At the first networking event I ever attended by myself, I lasted five minutes—including the four minutes it took me to check my coat.” I love it.
Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Kim. Your last paragraph illustrates what I talk about in my Connecting for you Next Job (which, not surprisingly, doesn’t draw as many people as I’d like, as people hate the idea of networking), so I might use it as a story.
Feel free. I always “steal” stories from others (with permission, as you’ve asked). Makes our messages more credible and interesting if we tell real life stories.
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